Creative & Agile Techniques to Facilitate Change #KMWorld

kmworld-social

Speakers: Felicity McNish, Global Knowledge Management Leader, Aurecon; and Sue Stewart, Global Knowledge Culture Leader, Aurecon

Session Description: Change is not one size fits all; it’s dependent and interdependent on the environment, the market, the organization, the strategy, the culture and the individuals involved to be prescribed in a cast-iron process. Compounding the change challenge are the constraints of time, resources, budget, client commitments, motivation, leadership expectations, and, in some cases, pandemics. Irrespective, there are constants; people need a clear purpose for change, the motivation to support, the knowledge to understand, the tools to act, and the reinforcement to sustain. And the change approach needs to be adaptive and responsive to the needs of both the people and the organization. Speakers discuss the critical factors for sustained change and share practical and creative approaches, fusing together elements of change theory with psychology, communication, marketing, advertising, branding, storytelling, and good old-fashioned manners. They share their experiences and outcomes implementing cultural, knowledge, and operational and technical transformations in different organizations over the last 20 years.

[These are my notes from the KMWorld Connect 2020 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Audience Poll: What’s the greatest obstacle to success in your organization?
    • Organizational Culture
    • Too much change or lack of prioritization
    • Lack of leadership by sponsors
  • This presentation is not intended to be a “how to” discussion. Rather, it focuses on “what is possible.”
  • Case Studies: The presenters have been working together for 20 years. They will be presenting stories and lessons from where they have worked: Woods Bagot, Unispace, and Aurecon.
  • Creativity
    • Creativity is critical to change because it helps you focus on what is not yet but might be someday.
    • See Tina Selig video that lays out the key elements of the creative approach to change
    • Attitude – make sure that your attitude has a positive impact on the people affected by the change. You will need to design and stage their experience.
      • Understand and listen to the people you are working with. Ask them to tell stories about themselves: tell us about yourself and your family, where you work, your best and worst change experience, and your superpower.
      • Show your appreciation to the people working with you by showing up prepared, thanking them during the session, and following up with thanks after the session.
      • Failure is data — use failure as an opportunity to collect data on what worked and what didn’t work. Don’t lose sight of the small victories — even in the midst of failures. Look for the bright spots.
    • Imagination
      • Chindogu — a Japanese term for coming up with useless ideas. Why bother? Because it cranks your brain into gear.
      • Use warm-up cards with provocative questions that help participants begin to think more creatively about connecting critical knowledge.
      • As you ideate, identify what must happen, what should happen, and what absolutely won’t be acceptable.
    • Knowledge — you can’t be creative without knowledge about the area / problem / opportunity you are trying to address
      • Going in prepared helps prevent a bad experience. “A single negative experience has four or five times greater impact than a single positive one.”
      • MLP not MVP — instead of focusing on minimal viable product, focus on delivering the minimal LOVABLE product.
    • Habitat / Environment
      • Create a warm, welcoming, FUN environment.
    • Culture
      • Edgar Schein’s model explains how culture forms and is maintained: artefacts < espoused values < underlying assumptions. The artefacts are the things and behaviors you see. They are based on harder-to-see values and assumptions.
    • Resources
      • Allies — when resources are constrained, identify and work with allies across the organization
      • Innovate with what you’ve got
  • Agile — enables innovation without sacrificing reliability
    • Team
      • Stable teams outperform temporary teams
      • Recruit T-shaped team members who have or can build relationships across the business. Stay away from Lone Stars
    • Time
      • Time is has two elements: the time spent working on the innovation PLUS the time spent waiting for others
      • Understand that people need time to learn and embrace change. Further, that learning time will be a period of reduced productivity, which can be exhausting.
      • Make sure people have some recovery time so that they can absorb and integrate the learning.
    • Attention — they use three key elements to capture attention in an 8-second era
      • Engage with stories
      • Anticipate the needs
      • Show the return
      • Use Images — still photos and video
      • explain things using the same visuals every time
    • Barriers
      • You do not need to be a scrum master. It is more about mindset.
      • Address the elephant in the room such as lack of budget or abundance of bureaucracy.
      • Understand your sponsors: What are they looking for? What is their ability to actual lead through this change?
  • Recommended Resource: Jason Fox, The Game Changer

Share

Keynote: The Disrupted Mindset #KMWorld

kmworld-social

Speaker: Charlene Li, Analyst & Author, The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Businesses Transform While Others Fail

Session Description: Growth is always hard, and disruptive growth is exponentially harder. It requires companies to make tough decisions in the face of daunting uncertainties. Some organizations beat the odds and succeed at becoming disruptive: Adobe, ING Bank, Nokia, Southern New Hampshire University, and T-Mobile, among them. Their stories make it clear that organizations don”t have to be tech start-ups or have the latest innovations to transform. What they need to do is develop a disruptive mindset that permeates every aspect of the organization. Li lays out how to do so by focusing on three elements. A strategy designed to meet the needs of future customers; leadership that creates a movement to drive and sustain transformation’ and a culture that thrives on disruptive change. Drawing on interviews with some of the most audacious people driving disruptive transformation today, Li will inspire leaders at all levels to answer the call to lead disruptive transformation in their organizations, communities, and society.

[These are my notes from the KMWorld Connect 2020 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Disruption is an opportunity for change — and it’s an opportunity for growth. The needs of our customers and clients don’t go away although they definitely change. When things are going well, people tend to disrupt and innovate less. However, when times are bad then time is ripe for disruption.
    • Microsoft was formed during the oilshock recession in the 1970s
    • The iPod was launched just after the tech bubble burst
    • Uber was created during the global financial crisis of the last decade
  • The Disrupted or the Disruptive? Who are you going to be? There are only two choices.
  • Focus on People and Transformation — You must look beyond the technology. It isn’t just about the cool tools. It’s about finding new ways to use them to open new opportunities.
  • Focus on the Future — know where your customers are but, more importantly, figure out where they will be. (Wayne Gretzky: “Skate to where the puck will be.”)
    • In 2010, Adobe realized that the way they distributed their software via CD-Roms was not as efficient as using the cloud. However, their customers were perfectly happy with the current situation. In addition, their employees were perfectly happy serving customers using this model. Finally, as a publicly traded company, moving from software to the cloud would temporarily depress their revenue and ramp up their startup costs. Despite all of this, they moved forward. Even though their net income plummeted, the stock market rewarded them for being forward-thinking. This was due to the fact that Adobe did such a good job of explaining who their future customer was.
    • Lesson: Don’t get blinded by your beautiful, profitable customers. It is important not to be seduced by the ease of your current situation. You need to find and fall in love with your future customers.
    • Audience Poll: a small number of attendees are in organizations whose entire workforce is focused on their future customer. Only one quarter of attendees have a small group focused on figuring this out. A smaller group are not evenly slightly focused on their future customer.
  • Fall in Love with your Future Customers
    • Use Empathy Maps to Spark Curiosity — figure out who your future customer is. What do they think, feel, say, and do?
  • Put Future Customers in your Dashboards — once they are on your dashboard, they become a priority. This is an important signal to your team.
  • Connect your Customer-Obsessed People — wherever they are in the organization. They are the ones who are always seeing opportunities for greater service and sales to customers. This allows you to develop an organization-wide view of your future customer. And it gives your employees an opportunity to cross-fertilize innovation and disruption.
  • Leadership — as always, leadership is critical for success. The best leaders make you feel empowered, inspired, limitless.
  • Disruption Needs to be a Movement — movements take on a life of their own. They continue well beyond the life of the leader. (Heimans & Timms, New Power: “It’s only a movement if it moves without you.”) This happens when the leader constantly and consistently communicates their vision.
    • T-Mobile consciously decided to meet its future customers by becoming the “un-carrier,” the opposite of everything customers hated about the other mobile carriers. They began with a manifesto that fed the passion and directed the actions of T-Mobile personnel.
  • What is your Disruption Quotient? On a scale of 1-10, where 1=status quo and 10=disruptive, where are you? If you are on the low-end, you cling to the status quo. If you are on the high-end, you are naturally disruptive.
    • Note: the goal is not to be a 10 on this 1-10 scale. If you are a 3 and your organization is a 1, then you are a leader. If you are an 8 and your organization is a 10, then you are a laggard.
    • Audience poll: attendees say they are 6.2 out of 10, on average. However, they say that that their organizations are 5 out of 10 on average. This is close to the usual result where most people tend to believe they are approximately 1.5 points more disruptive than their organizations.
  • Shift your Culture to Support Disruption — if you want to change your organizational culture, you need to change your organizational beliefs.
    • Orange Bank created their “Orange Code” to drive cultural transformation:
      • You take it on and make it happen
      • You help others to be successful
      • You are always a step ahead
  • Three Beliefs of Disruptive Organizations:
    • Openness
    • Agency
    • Bias for Action
  • Openness — Openness in information sharing and transparency in decisions builds trust and accountability
    • According to the chairman of Nokia, Risto Siilasmaa, sharing is good. To make this clear, he had the following principles:
      • “No news is bad news. Bad news is good news. Good news is no news.”
  • Openness Best Practices
    • Create a safe and inclusive environment. It is hard to share if you do not feel safe. The first step is to make sure they believe
    • Put vital data where it can best be use. It is important to share as much information as possible, as widely as possible.
    • Breaking down silos may not be the best approach. They are important because they enable expertise. The better approach is to install windows in your silos.
  • Agency — This gives every employee the opportunity to act like an owner. (It is different from “empowered,” which relies on permission received from someone else.)
    • Sponsor agency in every employee
    • At Amazon, they have adopted the principle of ownership:
      • “Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say, ‘that’s not my job.’”
  • Best Practices for Agency
    • Demonstrate trust in their judgment — people will not act boldly if they are uncertain of your support.
    • Shift ownership and authority in chunks — give them what they need to act decisively.
    • Connect emerging leaders for peer support — it is hard for some employees to view themselves as owners — particularly if they feel as if they are acting alone.
  • Action – sometimes the thing that is holding you back is a critical bit of information. So you and your organization should identify and share the Minimally Viable Data required to take action.
    • Southern New Hampshire acquired the Daniel Webster University in FIVE days. They did this by developing a bias for action and distributing widely the necessary decision-making power. [Of course, this also requires tremendous trust in your team.]
  • Best Practices for Action
    • Develop Extrasensory Skills — invest in and develop your employees’ extrasensory skills to seek out growth.
    • Force decisions and action by imposing impossible deadlines. This requires decision making without complete information. [It acknowledges that despite our fondest wishes, we rarely have complete information. So this approach reduces analysis paralysis.]
    • Define the decision field — most decisions are reversible. So be clear about which decisions can be revisited safely and which ones need to be done right the first time.
    • Define your edges of action — if people don’t know what the edges are, they tend to stay in the center and avoid discomfort. So help your people understand how far they can go. Then they can push themselves to the edge and still feel safe.
  • What Beliefs Hold Us Back?
    • Some people believe that they need permission from someone else to make change,
    • Some people say that they don’t have the right role / position / title to make change,
    • Some people say that they do not have the budget / people / resources to make change. However, this is more a matter of priorities and allocation of resources. When do you set aside the urgent and focus on the important work of defining your future?
  • Comfort Zone is Danger Zone — during these turbulent times, it is very natural to want to stay within your comfort zone. However, that is a recipe for stagnation. Instead, push yourself to the edge of your comfort zone. This teaches you how much more you are capable of. “Look over the precipice and see what is there. Then take just one step back and operate there. Build the scaffolding within your organization to support you at that edge.”
    • “You don’t know how far you can go until you reach the edge.”
  • Charlene Li encourages us to be in touch with her. She would like to hear how we are figuring out how to stay at the edge of discomfort and disruption. Here are her contact details:
    • Twitter: @charleneli
    • Email: Charlene@charleneli.com

Share

When Opportunity Knocks

When opportunity knocks, answer the door! This seems like simple advice but all too often we do not follow it. Why? Sometimes, we’re just not paying attention. At other times, we see the opportunity but focus more on the possibility of failure than success.

Moroccan Door

Oscar Wilde once said, “A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks.” I’ve never been a pessimist but I will admit to having been a little bit hard of hearing when opportunity knocked on my door at the beginning of 2018. Finally, the noise penetrated and I realized that I could stretch my wings in a new direction by saying yes to the opportunity in front of me.

Given the limits of the 24-hour day, however, when something new gets added, something else must be removed. Unfortunately, one of the things I had to reallocate was the time I usually devoted to blogging. While I understood the trade-off, I missed the writing. And I really missed the interesting conversations with my readers.

And then opportunity knocked again. This time, it was in the form of a request to blog KMWorld Connect — a virtual conference for professionals interested in knowledge management, organizational culture and change, search and taxonomy, text analytics, artificial intelligence, and a host of compelling related topics. I’ve blogged KMWorld conferences in the past but this year will be a departure: a fully virtual learning and networking experience. Undoubtedly, there will be many new things to learn and to report on.

So I’m back to blogging. This week I will focus primarily on sharing the learning from the conference. Next week, I hope to start blogging on a regular schedule. But for now, fasten your seat belts for what I hope will be an informative ride.

Welcome back!

[Photo Credit: Raul Cacho Oses]

Share

KM Guardian or KM Guide?

World_Map_1689What is knowledge management’s core function? Are we to be guardians or guides?

When I started in law firm knowledge management, my role was fairly clear: I was to be a guardian. What does this mean? My job was to gather and guard the intellectual capital of the firm. I was to help filter the useful material from the less useful, put the useful material in a central location, and then provide easy access to it based on the firm’s confidentiality rules and permissions structure. While this was a fair amount of work, it was not hard to grasp. Further, it fit nicely with one of the traditional roles of law firms: gatekeeper of esoteric knowledge. Just as law firms accumulated knowledge of the law and then provided it to clients, I was to provide the same service to the lawyers who were my internal clients. In a sense, I was to be the firm’s gatekeeper of gatekeepers.

In many law firms today, this is still the primary function of their KM personnel. They hunt down or create legal content. They cajole or harass fee-earner colleagues to draft, review and approve materials for the central repository of firm crown jewel documents (e.g., model documents, practice guides, matter process maps, etc.) They tangle with IT in an attempt to create a user-friendly environment for that central repository (e.g., an intranet/portal or even a simple wiki). And once they have some content in this collection, they then need to start the work of finding fee-earning colleagues who will actually keep those materials current and relevant.  On the best of days, being a KM guardian is a sisyphean task.

Being a KM guide is no less time-consuming, but I would suggest that it is far more productive.

What is a KM guide? The role of a KM guide is not that different from a tour guide: identifying the trail, illuminating the path, providing context, enabling fellow travelers to discover and learn from the experience.  The pathways in question here are not physical pathways, but rather pathways to learning and knowledge.  Accordingly, rather than saying “this document contains what you need to know,” we would instead say “this how others in a similar situation found what they needed to know.”

Before you dismiss this as an inefficient, roundabout method, consider the following example. If you come to me looking for information and I hand you something off-the-shelf, generally one of two things will happen: either it will be exactly what you were looking for (and you will thank me profusely) or it will not be what you were looking for (and you will wonder why you wasted your time). This is the experience many people have when they go to their intranet looking for information.

There is also a variant on the second experience that can be profoundly aggravating: they find something that is almost, but not quite, what they were looking for. So they have to reverse engineer it to figure out how much they can salvage and how much they must create from scratch. However, because there rarely are any “reverse engineering instructions” attached to the document, they often have to reinvent the wheel in order to meet their goal. Talk about a colossal waste of time! Yet it goes on every day in organizations around the world.

Now are you ready to consider an alternative?

What if we had a map of the path the earlier traveler took to their destination. You would know that you didn’t need to go as far as they did, but you could follow the map until you reached the point where you had to take a turn onto another road. Obviously, your path on that other road would be beyond the map you were given, so you would have to figure that part out for yourself. However, that would be the ONLY part you would have to create from scratch. For the earlier part of your journey, you would simply have to follow the map rather than creating your own trail (machete in hand) through the undergrowth.

The beautiful thing about working with journey maps rather than destination documents is that these maps show the next traveler where the previous trailblazer was trying to go and how they did it. Then the newcomer can determine how best to plan their own journey. In doing so, they will build on the work of others rather than being forced to reinvent the wheel.

While I have not yet had a chance to test the software, there is a new tool that promises a similar experience by mapping the research path people take through the internet in pursuit of answers to life’s burning questions. Twingl’s Trailblazer is an extension to Chrome that shows what sites you visited and, in the process, reveals something of your thought process. There are several benefits to this approach:

  • You can step away from your research and then return later without having to repeat steps.
  • You can review your map to see where you might have missed something or taken an unproductive turn.
  • You can share your map with others — thereby transferring both the knowledge of where you ended up, as well as how you got there.

Now imagine if we could create similar maps of how the lawyers in our firms arrived at certain judgments, negotiation stances or language in documents. Then we could share within the firm a much deeper and better quality of knowledge — not only what we decided, but how we got there. These knowledge pathways set one lawyer apart from another. Aggregated, they could set one law firm apart from the others.

KM personnel have a role to play here by being KM guides.  A KM guide helps lawyers uncover and map their journey. Then that KM guide can maintain and share those maps. Just as we groom cross-country ski trails,  a KM guide keeps the knowledge trails within an organization accessible, well-tended, free of debris and easy to follow. Over time you will have a collection of overlapping maps that build on the work of earlier generations of lawyers and then extend the collective learning in new directions. What a fantastic outcome for a KM effort!

In an era of disintermediation, it makes less sense to be the guardian of information that often can be found by a variety of means in multiple places. It is more productive to help all the people in your firm rise to a higher point on the learning curve by building systematically on the knowledge maps of colleagues. You can accomplish this by being a KM guide.

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

 

Share

Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss – Part 2

Roosevelt and Churchill in conversationA constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. While blogging sometimes feels like a solitary activity, occasionally readers pay a writer the compliment of commenting on her work. Then the conversation begins. When the participants in that conversation are good-natured and well-intended, that conversation can become a constructive one that leads to greater understanding.

Last week I hoped to start a conversation that I believe is long overdue in the legal industry. That conversation concerns how law firms go about deciding to purchase intranet/portal technology. Law firm knowledge management departments often see an intranet as a core part of their offering to the firm. Yet too often the technology is chosen by the IT department and does not always serve the needs of the KM department. Unfortunately, some KM professionals are not aware that there are alternatives readily available in the market, so they cannot engage their It colleagues in a more productive conversation about the relative merits of the various technology offerings.  The result is rarely good for the KM department or the lawyers it serves. Consequently, my assertion was that Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss.

My solution to this problem was not to recommend a particular technology solution. Rather it was to urge my law firm KM colleagues to make sure they had done their due diligence to understand fully what the market offers before choosing any product. I closed my blog post by asking my readers to do themselves the favor of exploring alternatives to SharePoint before they make their purchase decision. If SharePoint is the right choice, then they should go ahead with it. If it is not the right choice for them, then they should choose another intranet product.

There is nothing radical about this advice. I would give it to someone contemplating a home purchase, a car purchase or even a toaster purchase. We make better decisions when we have better information. I’m simply asking my law firm colleagues to ensure they have better information.

In the spirit of better information, I am reproducing below two comments I received on my blog post via LinkedIn. Normally I would simply have responded in LinkedIn, but the word limitations there did not permit a thoughtful response. Therefore, I have moved the conversation here:

Comment from Doug Horton, President and CEO, Handshake Software:

Mary, I realized you got paid to review this software but having downloaded and read their SharePoint v. Interact whitepaper, there are many false assumptions in their comparison when viewed in the context of law firms. You know that Handshake Software is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market. You may not know that we have at least one client that is using our software and integrations to create an Intranet without SharePoint. Anyway, I would be happy to discuss offline with you or anyone else.

My response to Doug’s comment:

Doug, thanks very much for reading and commenting on my blog post.

I was asked by Interact to prepare a knowledge management white paper for the legal industry. I was not paid to review their software. My blog post on intranets was intended to start a conversation about right-sizing intranet investments in law firms. The white paper has the same goal. Your comments help by pushing this conversation forward and, for that, I thank you.

You mention in your comments that the company you founded and lead, Handshake Software, “is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market.” I congratulate you on the success of your company. In light of that success, I must note that my economic interest in Interact is infinitesimal in relation to your economic interest as the founder, president  and CEO of a company that continues its Microsoft SharePoint-focused growth in 2015.  Consequently, I was disappointed when you suggested that economic interests would sway me. This seems unfair in light of our relative economic interests.

You mention there were false assumptions in the Interact document to which I linked,  but you did not provide any specifics. That paper cites sources such as Gartner and AIIM. Are you questioning those sources or something else?  I would like to learn more specifics about your concerns. Until then, it is hard to respond to a general allegation. You offered to have an offline conversation on this, and I would welcome that opportunity.

Finally, I am delighted to learn from your comment that you have at least one client that is using your software and integration to create an intranet without SharePoint. Would you be willing to tell me more about that case so that I can feature it in one of my blog posts? The experience of that firm would undoubtedly be instructive for other firms weighing an intranet purchase decision.

– Mary

 

Comment from Ted Theodoropoulos, President, Acrowire:

Like Doug, I would also challenge the validity of Interact’s assessment of SharePoint. SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms? You can’t have a SharePoint environment stood up in weeks? There are no search analytics in SharePoint? All these assertions are completely inaccurate. I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products. I know a few legal CIOs personally who were let go for embarking on initiatives in which SharePoint was leveraged for uses in which it is not particularly well suited (i.e. legal DMS).

My response to Ted’s comment:

Ted, thanks for your comments on my blog post.

You noted that you share Doug’s analysis, so I’d invite you to take a look at my response to Doug.

In your comments, you referred to assertions that (i) SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms, (ii) you can’t stand up a SharePoint environment in weeks, and (iii) there are no search analytics in SharePoint. I did not make those assertions in my blog post and I did not see those assertions in the Interact document to which I linked from my post. Can you tell me where you found them?

Finally, you stated “I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products.” In fact, that was not my claim. I said: “No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.” (emphasis added)  My point was simply that Microsoft is often seen as a safer choice at the purchase stage than smaller, less-established vendors. However, I understand that the Microsoft label will not protect a CIO who has not deployed the software appropriately. Your example proves my understanding to be correct.

Would you be willing to tell me more about the examples you have in mind regarding CIOs who failed to deploy SharePoint properly? In particular, I would be interested in learning about the failed SharePoint-as-DMS examples you mentioned. This topic comes up frequently in law firm KM circles, so it would be good to have more facts at hand about why SharePoint does not deliver as a DMS.

– Mary

Conclusion:

As I stated earlier, a constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. It is my hope that Doug, Ted and others in the legal industry will join me in creating this constructive conversation regarding intranets. I know there are some law firms that are happy with their SharePoint deployment. I also know that there are law firms that are not as happy. As we raise everyone’s understanding about intranet technologies and opportunities available in the marketplace, we ensure that people make smarter purchase decisions. Obviously, the implementation is in each purchaser’s hands, but if they correctly make the first critical decision — buying the right software — that should put them miles ahead in terms of implementation, adoption and engagement.

At the end of the day, isn’t that where all of us want to be?

 

[Photo Credit: Roosevelt and Churchill in conversation (Zorba the Geek) / CC BY-SA 2.0]

Share

Who Needs to Know?

Who_is_it“Who needs to know?”

This is a question we ask often. Unfortunately, it is a question we do not always answer correctly. Sure, we might identify the obvious people, based on our personal experience or knowledge. However, we occasionally forget some key people, and there may be yet others of whom we are completely unaware.

As a result, we share knowledge with the smallest possible group. But that group may not even be the right group. We may explain our approach as well-intended efficiency or even a bid for security. However, at the end of the day, by failing to ensure that information reaches the right people, we have ensured that any decisions we make will be made on the basis of incomplete information.

Is it any wonder so many organizations make so many mistakes?

These are real questions in the context of law firms and law firm knowledge management departments that are trying to thread the needle between firm-wide knowledge sharing and concerns about protecting confidential information. While I do not want to minimize in any way the importance of protecting client-confidential information, I wonder if in our zeal to limit access to information we are actually depriving ourselves and our clients of the ability to make decisions and provide advice based on complete information.

It is instructive to see how another organization faced this challenge of holding knowledge tightly versus sharing it widely.  The organization I have mind plays for stakes that are very high indeed. It is the US military. In his TED talk (posted below), General Stanley McChrystal explains how he came up through the ranks in a security-conscious, need-to-know organization and yet came to understand the importance of sharing knowledge beyond the small group he initially identified as those who need to know. He describes the need for information security as something that was “in the DNA” of the military. He speaks of the organizational silos that served the purpose of ensuring information was kept safely contained.

Despite that security-conscious DNA, General McChrystal came to a startlingly different answer when he asked the question, “Who needs to know?” He discovered that “in a tightly coupled world, that’s very hard to predict. It’s very hard to know who needs to have information and who doesn’t.” So they changed their approach. They started asking “Who doesn’t know, but needs to be told as quickly as possible?” In fact, they went so far as to start knocking down organizational silos physically by having cross-functional teams work together in “situation awareness” rooms in which they could share, discuss and disseminate information quickly.

The results were impressive:

…as we passed that information around, suddenly you find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it. So as a consequence, what we did was we changed the idea of information, instead of knowledge is power, to one where sharing is power. It was the fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us. [emphasis added]

Admittedly, the army does not serve financial services companies who insist on rigorous data security audits and will withdraw their business if you do not meet their demands. The army does not have clients who refuse to allow any of their information to be shared within the firm even as they expect that they will have the benefit of learning and experience derived from the firm’s other clients. The army does not have owners who have grown up with a need to protect confidentiality that goes beyond professional obligation owed to a client, to cover even the most basic information about the health of the firm.

On the other hand, the army does make life and death decisions on a daily basis. And in this context, the army has learned that if it wishes to have effective teams that make good decisions, it must share information so that information becomes the “essential link” and not a “block” to team effectiveness and good decisionmaking.

Given the army’s example, isn’t it worth thinking harder about how to share knowledge safely and efficiently within law firms? At a minimum, it must mean moving beyond simply asking “Who needs to know?”

[ted id=1992]

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

Share

Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss

image002If you ever have the opportunity to hold an off-the-record conversation with law firm knowledge management personnel, ask them if they are delighted with their intranet. Many will confess that they are not. Equally, they will tell you that they did not have much choice about the software because their IT colleagues did not believe there were credible alternatives, and everyone agreed that it would be too expensive and time-consuming to build an intranet from scratch. Consequently, they defaulted to the standard law firm approach to software.

Law firms generally use three types of software:

  1. Purpose built: Software that was created specifically for a legal practice. Examples of this would be Diligence Engine, Exemplify and KM Standards. These applications were created by lawyers to address specific challenges that arise in the practice of corporate law.
  2. Client preferred: Software that law firms use because doing so makes it easier to share information with clients. The leading example of this would be the Microsoft Office suite of tools. There is nothing about those applications that was created specifically for the practice of law, but we use them because the results are in a form clients recognize.
  3. Herd default: Software that was not created for the practice of law, but we use in the legal industry because other firms use it. This is software that was not designed to address the challenges of legal practice and may present its own challenges to lawyers and law firm administrative staff, yet we contort ourselves to make it fit. A perfect example of this type of tool is Microsoft SharePoint.

Using the first two types of software makes sense: In the first case, because it makes the lives of lawyers easier and, in the second case, because it makes the lives of clients easier. So what is the rationale for using software that was not created for law firms and is not required by clients? In the case of SharePoint, there seem to be several reasons that, taken together, can make the decision nearly inevitable in some firms:

  • No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.
  • Some firms received SharePoint “for free,” in that it was bundled into the enterprise Microsoft license for no additional cost upfront.
  • A survey of IT colleagues indicates that SharePoint is “industry standard”.

If everyone else is using it, how bad can it be? An honest conversation with knowledge management colleagues working in firms in Australia, Canada, England and the US suggests that it can be pretty bad. This does not mean that they are unable to create something that works, more or less. However, few truly are delighted with the results. And even fewer are happy with the actual costs of implementing and upgrading SharePoint, much less the logistical challenge of finding and keeping experienced developers and administrators to maintain the resulting intranet.

So why do we adopt the herd default? Often it is because we simply lack information about alternative options. This would be excusable if information about intranets was hard to find, but the reality is that a simple search online will turn up many credible alternatives. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group (who are leading intranet experts) reports that there are lots of credible alternatives to SharePoint:

Many organizations are happy to report that a variety of tools, including open-source tools, are catching up to their needs. Everyone cannot necessarily afford to integrate and support large, complex intranet portal solutions such as SharePoint. But as technology matures, the barriers to entry are lowered, and more portal technology options become available.

This is not a new concept for intranet portal design. In 2000 when we first began studying intranets, open source was used heavily. Not until 2008 did we see SharePoint taking a strong hold. Even that year, our 10 Intranet Design Annualwinners used 41 different products for their intranet technology platforms. In our most recent (2014) Intranet Design Annual, 5 out of 10 winners used SharePoint. In our intranet behavioral-research studies, organizations used about 20 different portal-software tools. So there has never been a paucity of intranet portal technology that can produce worthwhile portals. What’s different today is that technology has advanced to a point where a fairly nontechnical team can create a highly functional portal without an advanced design team in-house.

Here’s the rub: according to the Nielsen Norman Group, it should be possible today to implement an intranet without significant technological expertise. Tell that to the law firm KM departments that struggle daily to modify and maintain their SharePoint intranets. It would be their dream to be able to create, modify and maintain an intranet without any intervention by their IT staff once the active directory was hooked up. Sadly, they consider this to be an impossible dream.

In fact, this dream is not only possible, but the reality for organizations that have chosen intranet software that does what good enterprise or consumer-facing software should do: it does all the heavy lifting so that the user can work more productively without getting bogged down in development challenges.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about one of the alternatives to SharePoint. It is intranet software created by Interact. The folks at Interact retained me to learn about their software and then write about how software like theirs might be helpful to law firm KM departments. I have done that and the resulting white paper will be available within the next few weeks.

While I don’t want to steal a march on the white paper, I must confess that seeing the Interact software in action made me sad for my colleagues in law firm KM departments. When I compared the sheer ease of implementing and administering Interact’s intranet with the stories my colleagues told about their own intranets, it was clear that many were struggling unnecessarily. Given the general approach of law firms to software, I realize that moving away from Microsoft may be a challenge. However, before following the herd, do yourself and your firm the favor of investigating the alternatives. It would be a crying shame to resign yourself to unnecessary struggle just because you did not know there were better alternatives within reach.

Intranet ignorance is NOT bliss.

[This blog post was cross-posted on the Interact blog.]

Share

Happy Year of the Ruminant

Lundy_sheep_(head_detail)East Asians have just celebrated the lunar new year. While all of them use the Chinese character “yang” to name the animal symbol of the year, some translate yang differently. In Chinese, yang could mean goat, sheep or ram. We’re told that it’s likely that the ancient meaning in China was goat. The Vietnamese also translate it as goat. Meanwhile, the Tibetans call this the year of the female wood sheep. (This one was new to me — I’d never heard of wood sheep before.)

While there may be controversy regarding the specific translation of yang, there is no dispute that sheep, goats and rams are all ruminants:

ru·mi·nant
noun
  1. an even-toed ungulate mammal that chews the cud regurgitated from its rumen. The ruminants comprise the cattle, sheep, antelopes, deer, giraffes, and their relatives.
  2. a contemplative person; a person given to meditation.
adjective
  1. of or belonging to ruminants.

As I read the definition, I wondered if yang should be the symbol of knowledge management? We KMers are neither even-toed nor ungulate. However, there is a measure of cud chewing and regurgitation that we encourage in the interest of  knowledge sharing and reuse. Even more importantly, we should be contemplative people. As much as we need to be action-oriented, we also provide an enormous service to our organizations by regularly taking a step back to think deeply about what is going on and how it could be better.

A recent working paper published by the Harvard Business School reported that there was markedly increased productivity in organizations that adopted one simple daily practice: at the end of each day employees asked themselves “what worked well today and why did it work so well?” They then took a few minutes to journal their findings. The results were impressive:

The researchers put new employees into groups where people either reflected on their days or didn’t. In the reflection group, employees were given a paper journal and asked to spend 15 minutes at the end of their workdays writing about what went well that day, which they did for 10 days.

The result: The journaling employees had 22.8% higher performance than the control group.

 

I mentioned this study earlier in the year because it made a big impression while driving home the following points to me:

  1. Although it is sensible to have a to-do list that keeps us on track, we must not get so busy doing that we no longer have a clear understanding of what we do, how we do it and why we do it.
  2. Keeping ourselves oriented towards improvement and innovation requires consistent work. The work of daily reflection helps us to see where innovation is possible and where improvement has been achieved.
  3. Daily accountability is the secret to making each day count and making the next day better.
  4. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive to work less and think more, the ruminant approach ultimately yields more rewarding work and superior results.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been experimenting with various reflection/journaling approaches to try to find the one that allows me to build on this daily practice. In this brief period I have already seen some remarkable improvement in my productivity.

In this year of the sheep/goat/ram, take a leaf from their book and spend a bit more time chewing the cud. And, once you’ve done that, write down the results of your reflection. As you reflect and write, you will find yourself incorporating your learning into your daily work. According to the HBS study, this will improve your processes and productivity. That’s not a bad outcome for 15 brief minutes of reflection and writing each day.

May you have a wonderfully happy AND productive year of the ruminant!

 

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

 

 

Share

Adopting the 12 Days of Christmas Approach to KM

12 days of Christmas graphic wikipediaIf you let your sense of time be guided by Madison Avenue, then by January 5 we are well into the New Year, and Christmas is long since past. Even the after-Christmas sales are old news at this point.

But the Madison Avenue view of life is not the only, or even the best, view of life. There is an alternative view according to which January 5 is not merely a day that occurs after Christmas, but rather is the 12th day of Christmas. According to this approach, Christmas is not a day, but a season. It is commemorated by the English carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. While the particular identity and meaning of each of the gifts may vary according to different sources, the underlying point remains the same: Christmas does not begin and end on December 25.

So why does this matter for knowledge management professionals? Aside for providing an excuse for additional gifts, it also serves as a timely reminder that things are not always as they seem. While one perspective (in this case, the Madison Avenue perspective) may be telling you the main event is over, looking at things from a different perspective (in this example, the Christian liturgical calendar) suddenly reveals that the festive season rightly should continue for much longer than you might have expected.

Similarly, in our work it is too easy to declare events or projects a success or failure and then turn our attention to other things. But have we actually fully explored and understood what happened?

  • Have we drawn all reasonable lessons from our experience?
  • Have we found useful and effective ways to share our learning with others?
  • Have we improved our systems and processes to reflect that learning?
  • Is our decision-making better because of that learning?
  • Have we squeezed every last drop of juice out of the experience?

The job of knowledge management professionals is to make the system work better — not to condemn the system, our colleagues and ourselves to making the same mistakes over and over again. However, if you treat your projects or matters as one-off events — like Madison Avenue treats Christmas — then you miss a golden opportunity to derive the fullest possible value from each experience.

In 1984, the PNC Bank established the Christmas Price Index by calculating the cost in present-day dollars of actually giving someone each of the gifts enumerated in the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. The cost in 1984 dollars of giving one set of each of the gifts was $12,623.10. The “true” cost of Christmas (i.e., giving as many sets of each gift as indicated by the repeated lines of the song, that is 364 items) was $61,318.94 in 1984. By comparison the cost in 2014 of one set of gifts was $27,673.21 while the cumulative cost of the gifts as repeated was $116,273.06.

While PNC has provided this fun new tradition (as well as a game and other resources for children) to help show the cost of the 12 Days of Christmas Approach to gift giving, I’m not aware of any data that show the true cost to KM professionals and their organizations of their failure to spend the extra time to wring every possible lesson out of every experience.

While the 12 Days of Christmas traditionally end on January 5 (according to the western liturgical calendar), I wonder if a KM calendar should extend them to the entire year? After all, can we or our organizations afford not to take advantage of every gift of learning that comes from experience?

**************

Just for fun, here are two of my favorite new versions of the carol:

Straight No Chaser

Bob Chilcott’s arrangement:

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

 

Share

Happy and Productive New Year!

NYEBall2As we were heading to a festive New Year’s Eve dinner, our cab driver asked (tongue in cheek) whether we wanted to go to Times Square.  Our negative response was so emphatic that he had to laugh. Now don’t get me wrong. I understand that for some folks their idea of a good time is to spend hours in the freezing cold just so they can watch something drop. I hope they enjoyed every minute of it. But don’t expect me to be there shivering in the cold next to them. Instead, we had a low-key (and considerably warmer) celebration. Over the course of the evening, we took a few minutes to remember the good things that happened in 2014. While no year is unalloyed joy, 2014 was a pretty good year for our family. And we are profoundly grateful.

From a professional perspective, 2014 was a stellar year for me. Among the highlights:

  • I published Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions
  • I grew my consulting and facilitating practice in revenue and diversity of clients
  • I gave more presentations than I have ever given in any other year
  • I upgraded this blog

So why this recital of good things? It’s good science. Let me explain.

A Harvard Business School working paper,”Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance,”  documents research that shows a marked improvement in productivity when you step away from your work to reflect on your progress. Drake Baer reports that the researchers tested their theories in the field with employees of Wipro in the following way:

The researchers put new employees into groups where people either reflected on their days or didn’t. In the reflection group, employees were given a paper journal and asked to spend 15 minutes at the end of their workdays writing about what went well that day, which they did for 10 days.

The result: The journaling employees had 22.8% higher performance than the control group.  [emphasis added]

Why does this work? According to HBS professor Francesca Gino:

When people have the opportunity to reflect, they experience a boost in self-efficacy. They feel more confident that they can achieve things. As a result, they put more effort into what they’re doing and what they learn.

So what does this mean for me? In 2015 I’m going to take the time to reflect more regularly (hopefully daily) on what’s working and why. Then I will try to take those lessons learned and apply them to the following day. This should create an upward spiral of learning and productivity.

And what about you? I hope you’ll make the commitment to greater productivity by taking a few minutes away from your To Do list in order to make the time for daily self-reflection.

Have a happy AND productive 2015!

 

http://youtu.be/ee1QEcGjFUI

[For the official livestream, see http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/57133726]

[Photo Credit: Countdown Entertainment LLC]

Share